Campaign Finance Regulation: Lessons from Washington State

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Extensive regulations govern campaignfinance at the state and national levels. Congresshas recently passed the McCain-Feingold lawthat restricts contributions and electoral advertising.Many states, including Washington, havesimilar regulations. Washington's regulationslimit contributions from individuals, politicalaction committees, and political parties.

Overall, campaign finance regulation inWashington State has been able to reduce thesums spent on campaigns for the state legislature.Contrary to the claims of proponents, campaignfinance regulation has hindered electoral competitionin the state. Incumbents were less likely to faceeither primary or general election challengers afterthe regulations went into effect. In addition, candidateswho challenged incumbents during the generalelection were less likely to win.

Proponents of contribution limits hope topass new regulations in additional states andexpect McCain-Feingold to enhance electoralcompetition. The experience of Washington Statesuggests that both aspirations are unlikely tobecome reality.

Michael J. New

Michael J. New is a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-MIT Data Center and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.